The Galapagos Islands are home to a species of wild tomato that is very important to tomato breeders and agronomists because it interbreeds easily with cultivated tomatoes to produce hybrid varieties with desirable traits. Cheesmanii is unusual wild species with ornate, frilly leaves found only on the Galapagos Islands off the Pacific coast of Ecuador. According to the American Journal of Botany the wild Galapagos Island tomato species have disease resistance properties that make them desirable for interbreeding with other strains. Like all living things on the Islands the Galapagos wild tomatoes evolved from their ancestral form in isolation. The result is a plant that produces edible yellow-orange fruits that have high sugar and beta carotene content.
Lycoperiscon chessmanii may reach 3-5ft and are most similar to certain cherry tomato varieties in growth and fruit production. The Galapagos Island tomato is distinctive and ornamental in a tomato garden, having smaller, ruffled leaves and profuse flowers. Fruits ripen quickly, in 50-60 days and seem to enjoy hot weather to set. Fruits are small, similar to a small cherry tomato, and ripen to an orange. Flavor is fairly typical for a standard cherry tomato.
This species is of particular interest for cross-breeding with garden tomatoes as plants grow well in salty-poor soils and have a number of other useful traits. L.cheesmanii has provided several benefits to the common tomato. The first is the incorporation of a single recessive gene that codes for joint-less pedicels. This is oftener used as a genetic marker. L.cheesmanii also can be used for its high vitamin C, pro vitamin A and higher soluble solids contents.
Interesting note: Sarah Darwin is a researcher at the Natural History Museum in London, and also the great, great granddaughter of Charles Darwin. Sarah herself is a botanist, specializing in the Galapagos tomato. She launched an appeal to raise 250,000 to help save 20 critically endangered plants endemic to the Galapagos Islands, an area off Ecuador, and, coincidentally, one closely associated with Charles Darwin. There are two species of tomato growing naturally on the islands, Solanum cheesmaniae and Solanum galapagense. Both are close relatives of the commercial tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) and ‘galapagense’ was named by Sarah Darwin.
Sarah’s concern is the potential loss of this native species if there is too much interbreeding with the weedy tomato. Today, around 40% of the plants are endemic, but they are under threat of extinction because of invasive plants that have been introduced, such as the quinine and the blackberry. Her studies have shown this is indeed what is happening and that weeds generally are a huge problem for the islands.